A rare windy, sunny, and warm (by Canadian standards, at least) forecast, on a weekend no less, lured us into an international road trip to check out the famed river spot: Saint-Jean-de-I'lle-d'Orleans! As this is primarily a French speaking part of the world, I made sure to have my official translator with me on the trip. So I met up with fellow windsurfer Ace, loaded his gear into the truck, and off we went! All kidding aside, the trip was his idea, as he is constantly scouring the forecasts and looking for opportunities, so many thanks are due to him for his help in organizing the trip!
A quick and easy 4.5 hour drive from our headquarters in Burlington, VT, had us crossing the border at the top of I-89, then traversing some small farm towns, until we met up with I-10 for the remainder of the trip. Once near Quebec City, you cross a massive bridge over the St Lawrence, getting your first glimpse of the whitecap laden river. Then it's a short trip around the outskirts of Q.C., and over another old school looking bridge onto the Ille d'Orleans. Keep an eye out for the epic waterfalls all along the route!
First off, this island is massive: 21 miles long and 5 miles wide, with huge rolling hills and cool little coves, and tiny villages peppered along the main road which wraps around the perimeter of the island. Quaint and old world in feel, the only sour note was that all of the restaurants closed at 7PM, so we missed last call for dinner after sailing late into the evening :)
Telephoto view from the launch site at Saint-Jean
The main sailing spot is in a town called Saint-Jean, on the south eastern side of the island. There is a small parking lot, with grassy rigging areas, toilets, a giant rock pier, and a steeply sloping sandy beach. It is a popular launch, so parking is super tight! We got lucky and nabbed a spot just as someone else was leaving after their morning sesh. Otherwise, the lot was full until sunset!
The arrival was a bit like a family reunion- It was awesome to see so many friendly faces from the windsurfing world! Folks that I've met from Hatteras, Plattsburgh, VT, and even just email correspondence, came out of the woodwork to welcome us and give us some tips and tricks to launching at this epic spot! The camaraderie and passion of the QC windsurfing scene is a sight to behold. These guys are dedicated, and exceptionally welcoming!
This particular day was pretty windy: 25+ mph out of the northeast. You have to be careful of the tides here, and generally want to time it with the river going from high to low tide so that the current opposes the NE wind. This creates a bit of a Gorge effect, with large rolling swell for surfing and jumping, and a "carefree" session of not having to worry about staying upwind. From the sounds of it, the hour or two closest to dead high tide and dead low tide offer the cleanest wave conditions, and everything in between can be pretty choppy.
iWindsurf.com archive from Saint-Francois, about a mile upwind of the launch
We arrived at mid tide, around 2 pm, and had a lot of fun sailing 3.7 up to 4.5 on small boards, enjoying the bump and jump conditions and amazing scenery. What a beautiful spot, with rolling hills, farm pastures, and little villages peppered along the river! A few giant container ships and cruise ships rolled by, so remember to keep an eye out for boat traffic while ripping up the swell!
After an hour or two of brain jostling bump and jump, we took a snack and water break, and refueled for the evening sesh. The wind came up another 5 knots, and as promised by the locals, the water smoothed out and there was some pretty epic river surfing going on! Most of the waves were quite "fat" with a nice easy slope and rolling feel to them, but every now and then one would wall up really steep and get your stomach in a knot as you dropped in! Some waves would dissipate pretty quickly, offering a drop in and maybe a little face for a wiggle, while others would roll on for three or four solid turns straight downwind. Jumping was hit or miss, as the tops of the bigger waves would sometimes flatten out right as you got to them, and the "kicker" section of the wave would just disappear out from underneath you, while other times it would pitch right up and send you into the stratosphere at the very last second. Challenging and fun while lit up on a 3.7! :)
Here are some pictures from our trip. Would we return? ABSOLUTELY! Save us a parking spot, guys! ;) And thanks so much for the hospitality!
**Disclaimer** Clearly, after just one trip to this spot, we are not experts on everything that it has to offer. Best bet is to contact a local windsurfer and seek assistance if you plan to windsurf here.
Ace, ready to rig down to a smaller sail
Look out for freight ships!
Yes, this is a river: The Mighty St Lawrence!
Easy Launching and Landing on a sandy beach. Just beware some submerged rocks along the shoreline.
Pretty fat, rolling swell in the 3-5' range
Waves for All, no shortage of space out there!
Cruise ships, too!
That's a BIG BOAT!
J.R. happy on his 4.0!